Published August 04, 2006 03:37 am

After a couple of days of rain, the heat began to rise again at Vikings training camp in Mankato Thursday and so did the intensity level of the players.

[size=18px]Vikings notebook: Camp heats up during live offense-defense drills[/size]
Players' intensity, hitting picks up

By Jim Rueda
The Free Press

After a couple of days of rain, the heat began to rise again at Vikings training camp in Mankato Thursday and so did the intensity level of the players. The defense seemed to have a slight edge in the morning practice, delivering some big hits and picking off a few passes during live 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills.

Veteran safety Tank Williams delivered the biggest blow of the morning session, leveling wide receiver Kevin Kasper after he hauled in a 12-yard pass. Kasper held on to the ball but was very slow in getting up.

Fullback Richard Owens also appeared wobbly after taking a hit but both he and Kasper resumed their spots in the practice rotation. Linebacker E.J. Henderson picked off a pass by back-up quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan and linebacker Napoleon Harris stepped in front of a deflected pass from Brad Johnson for another INT.

Offensively, Travis Taylor continued to shine at wideout. The seventh-year receiver, who is in his second Vikings training camp, made a diving grab on a slant pattern of a 15-year pass from Johnson.

Afterwards, both offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterback Johnson said Monday’s initial workout may have been the best yet for the team this training camp.

Kluwe coming around

Special teams coach Paul Ferraro admitted punter Chris Kluwe not completely back from his knee injury of last season but says the second-year kicker is improving daily.

“He’s really progressing well,” Ferraro said. “That’s a credit to the amount of work that he put in along with the trainers here in the offseason.

“We like where he is right now. He’s got to continue to come, but I see no reason why he won’t be at the same level if not better than he was before the injury.”

Kluwe is also be asked to hold on field goals for the first time this season. Although he still has work to do, Ferraro said that aspect of Kluwe’s game is also progressing nicely.

“He’s doing well,” Ferraro said. “There are some little technical things here and there in terms of getting the ball exactly where (place-kicker) Ryan (Longwell) wants it and the lean of the ball and that kind of thing. But for somebody that hasn’t done it before, I think he’s doing a really nice job at this point.”

Johnson wants K.C.

Veteran quarterback Brad Johnson says he’s looking forward to practicing against the Kansas City Chiefs Friday when they come to Mankato for an evening workout.

“It’ll be nice to see a different defense,” he said. “In camp you sort of get a feel for what our defense is going to do or how they’re going to react in certain formations so it’ll be good for us to see what we can do when we don’t have that familiarity.

“Those workouts can get pretty intense. We’ve kind of developed a rivalry with the Chiefs even though we only practice against them or have preseason games with them.”

Who’s returning?

Fourth-year running back Mewelde Moore appears to have a solid grasp on the No. 1 punt return spot but the same can’t be said for Pro Bowler Koren Robinson on kick returns.

“Mewelde did a good job and was at a high level a year ago,” Ferraro said. “He’s our No. 1 punt return guy right now but we’re working in a lot of different people in our return game.”

As for Robinson, a lot may depend on how much he is involved in the passing game.

“With Koren we’re going to have to see where it goes in the preseason in terms of the offense and, again, where the competition goes in the kick return situation,” Ferraro said. “It’s obvious what he brings to the table but we’re just going to have to continue to evaluate with the other people we’re giving reps to.”

Big hitters

Ferraro said the 2006 rookie class has been looking very strong on special teams coverage, particularly cornerback Cedric Griffin, safety Greg Blue and linebacker Chad Greenway.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them in a live situation, covering some kicks and doing some things,” Ferraro said.

Bumps and bruises

Rookie cornerback Charles Gordon suffered what was believed to be a knee injury Thursday and had to be carted off the field. His status for today’s practices is unknown.

After nearly two days on the sidelines with a swollen knee, wide receiver Dez White returned to practice Thursday afternoon.

Vikings notebook: Camp heats up during live offense-defense drills